Monthly Archives: March 2020

Slave Labor in 19th Century Britain: A Bottom-Up Perspective

When one thinks of the slave trade, sugar production, and the abolitionist movement, it is easy to conclude that the eradication of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves in Britain, the global hegemon at the time, was delayed until 1806 and 1834 respectively (Shapiro, 2008) largely because wealthy sugar plantation owners wanted to keep the cost of labor down, protect their massive estates, and safeguard their sugar empires. While this story may have held true in the early days of the slave trade, a much more complex situation unfolded once sugar became democratized and was commonplace among the British working class. I argue that the rise in the standard of living that poor British laborers experienced by having cheap access to “luxurious” sugar created a growing demand for the product, and, in turn, prolonged the use of slave labor on sugar plantations. 

The Changing Economics of Sugar from the 18th to 19th Century

An oversupply of sugar in the late 18th Century coupled with the eradication of protectionist policies which safeguarded the monopolistic control that West Indian planters had over the commodity led to a drop in the price of sugar and subsequently a much larger consumer base (Mintz, 1986, p. 161-162). Most early sugar plantation owners were furious that the British government ended its preferential treatment of West Indian sugar and resisted the government’s actions.

“They put up a determined resistance to…the abrogation of their monopoly. They were always on the warpath to oppose any increase of their duties on sugar.”

Mintz, 1986, p. 170

Despite the backlash from West Indian planters, the British government went ahead with pursuing a “free market” approach towards sugar and repealed the lower tariffs that it had previously afforded exclusively to West Indian sugar. As a result, competition among sugar producers increased, lowering the price of sugar, and making the product accessible to the masses for the first time (Mintz, 1986, p.161). Once sugar became more affordable in the 19th Century, the product quickly became a staple in almost all British households (Mintz, 1986, p.157). In fact, demand for the sweet commodity began to skyrocket as sugar became an important part of people’s diets, lives, and, most importantly, family budgets (Mintz, 1986, p.167) .

Real Sugar Prices and Sugar Consumption Per Capita in England, 1600-1850
Source: Hersh and Voth, 2009, p.15

As time progressed and sugar became even cheaper, the commodity was used in an array of new sweet delights including:

  1. Marmalades and Jams
  2. Condensed Milk 
  3. Chocolate
  4. Sherbert

Moreover, sugar became a critical source of calories for laborers who worked long hours in the factories and would often replace entire meals with a simple cup of tea sweetened with sugar. Lastly, from a cultural perspective, sugar continued to seem like a luxury and thus poor, working class Brits were finally able to join in and experience the feeling of privilege that comes with serving and being served sugar and sugary goods (Mintz, 1986, p.173).

The Changing Economics of and Sentiment Towards Slave Labor

It is in the context of the working class’s seemingly insatiable hunger for and dependence on sugar that the production of sugar from slave labor became inextricably linked to working class consumption of sugar in Britain. The fate and destiny of African slaves was no longer in the hands of the few political elite and ultra-wealthy plantation owners, but rather the British working masses who came to habitually consume the sugar they produced.

As British working-class laborers became accustomed to the higher standards of living that the fruits of slave labor afforded them, they also started to perpetuate a radical strain of racism that classified black slaves as sub-humans and disregarded their calls for emancipation (Hanley, 2016, p.108). For instance, working-class Brits felt that slaves neither deserved the attention of British abolitionists nor were “intellectually or morally equipped to appreciate it properly” (Hanley, 2016, p.103-104).

Figure 1. From Charles White,  An Account in the Regular Gradation in Man (1799). An example of some of the racist beliefs held at the turn of the century in Great Britain and other Western countries.,_An_account_of_the_regular_gradation_Wellcome_L0031530.jpg#/media/File:C.White,_An_account_of_the_regular_gradation_Wellcome_L0031530.jpg

In fact, the growing animosity towards slaves that working-class Brits felt in the early 1800s stood in direct opposition to the growing abolitionist sentiment that was developing among political and economic elites (Hanley, 2016, p.103). For example, some wealthy Brits who—unlike the working class—no longer considered sugar to be a novelty began forming abolitionist groups and referring to sugar as “blood sugar” as it directly contributed to the exploitation of African slaves (Morton, 1998, p.87). Moreover, many of these well to do abolitionists attempted to dissuade their fellow Brits from consuming sugar by linking consumption of the commodity to the evil forces of “colonialism and exploitation” (Morton, 1998, p.88). 

“Sweetened drinks of tea, coffee, and chocolate were rendered suddenly nauseating by the notion that they contained the blood of slaves.”

Morton, 1998, p.87-88 

Meanwhile, most working-class Brits felt that their plight was being overlooked by political leaders and that the money and resources that were being poured into the abolitionist movement would have been better spent on improving the lives of white British laborers (Hanley, 2016, p.104). As a matter of fact, the large majority of the British working class was still excluded from voting and was angered by the fact that some political leaders appeared to be more focused in securing the political rights of a “distant and less deserving ethnic other” rather than laboring Englishmen (Hanley, 2016, p.104).

Great Reform Act of 1832 (above) transformed the British voting system and increased the number of Englishmen who were eligible to vote


The evolution of sugar and the slave trade in Britain were interconnected: as sugar became more accessible to the working masses, demand for the commodity, and the slave labor that produced the commodity, increased. As a result, the economics of slave labor became a bottom up story, that is, the demand for slave labor was no longer driven by a few wealthy plantation owners but rather the entire British working class. Moreover, as sugar became more affordable, working class Brits became accustomed to the fruits of slave labor and fervently opposed abolitionism and any attempts to put an end to the lifeblood of their gradual increase in living standards. Ultimately, as capitalism flourished and sugar became more accessible to the working masses in Britain, the emancipation of slaves was significantly delayed.

Works Cited

Hanley, R. (2016). SLAVERY AND THE BIRTH OF WORKING-CLASS RACISM IN ENGLAND, 1814–1833. The Alexander Prize Essay. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society26, 103-123.

Hersh, J., & Voth, H. J. (2009). Sweet diversity: colonial goods and the rise of European living standards after 1492.

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin.

Morton, T. (1780). Blood sugar. Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire1830, 87-106.

Shapiro, S. (2008, July). Review: After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807. Retrieved from

The Missing Story: The Spread of Cacao and the Popularity of Cocoa Production in Asia

It is no secret that chocolate was popularized in the Western world by the Europeans, particularly the Spanish, after discovering cacao in the New World. However, since Europeans began to dominate the chocolate industry, particularly relying on colonialism to exploit and export cacao from their colonies, the preeminent narrative has become one of widespread European production and consumption of chocolate. However, the historical focus on how chocolate spread from the European royalty to more broad audiences, such as the “common people” in Europe and in North America, limits the scope of understanding for the global popularity of cacao and chocolate production. The existing research tends to focus on chocolate as it spread from Europe to America, but this leads to a more narrow understanding of cacao and its popularity in other regions like East Asia.

The global narrative of chocolate cultivation, production, and consumptions begins in Mesoamerica. Cacao cultivation and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica during the early BCE era, and for the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations, cacao (or kakawa) was reserved primarily to produce drinks for the elite (although it also functioned as a form of currency) (Coe 2013, 78-81). Beginning around the early sixteenth-century, chocolate was introduced into the Spanish culture by Hernán Cortes and originally was similarly regarded as a popular delicacy of the European royalty. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, befeathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe,” (Coe 2013, 125). Chocolate remained an elite drink in Europe during the Baroque Age, as it spread in popularity from Spain and Portugal to Italy to France. In fact, the French are credited with the invention of the silver chocolatiére, pictured below, which was a chocolate-pot used to produce and serve the chocolate beverage produced from cocoa. The chocolatiére is significant because the invention evolved from the Mexican practice of producing a cacao beverage using a wooden molinillo, also depicted below. However, the French took this concept and produced the silver chocolatiére in which the European nobles could consume their chocolate beverages (Coe 2013, 156-157).

18th century French silver chocolatiére pictured third from the left, among other styles and types of chocolate-pots.

However, once chocolate spread to Britain in the seventeenth century, it also began to spread in popular consumption from the elites to the general public. Like the already-established popular coffee and tea houses, chocolate houses too began to pop up, one of which is depicted below. Chocolate houses were originally frequented by the British nobles and upper class citizens, as demonstrated by the noble style of dress (including the British wigs seen worn by the men in the image), as chocolate still cost more than did coffee (although not as much as tea). While chocolate was still an expensive commodity, the prevalence of the chocolate houses contributed to the spread of chocolate consumption from the elites to the masses as chocolate became popularized in British culture (Coe 2013, 167).

London Chocolate-house c.1708. Silver chocolatiéres can be seen on the tables, while British nobles (dressed accordingly) enjoy the delicacy.

Much of the existing literature on the global spread of chocolate focuses primarily on its path between South and Central America, Europe, and North America. In the 1660s, however, cacao began to spread not only to Europe but also across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and the South Pacific region (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Cacao cultivation was especially successful in the Philippines, which at the time was a Spanish colony: “They have brought from New Spain to the Philippines the Cacao plant,” Italian merchant and voyager Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri wrote of his travels to the Philippines in the seventeenth century. “[The Cacao plant] has multiplied so well, although it has degenerated a bit, that in a short while they can do without that of America,” (Coe 2013, 173). The Philippines was chocolate’s “one Asian success,” according to Sophie and Michael Coe; but cacao continued to spread beyond just the Philippines.

Map depicting the main routes for the spread of cacao globally, including to the Philippines and South Pacific/Southeast Asia regions.

As pictured in the map above, from the islands of the Philippines cacao cultivation first spread south to Indonesia, where the suitable climate, vast unused land, and large and inexpensive labor supply made the two Southeast Asian regions prime for Spanish exploitation (Sampeck and Thayn 2017, 93). Cacao cultivation grew in popularity in the Philippines and Indonesia specifically because their agrarian systems were characterized by the plantation sector, which excelled at producing tropical cash crops like cacao (Hayami 2001, 181-182).  Cocoa farming remained popular, however, because local farmers and large-scale plantation systems alike could cultivate cacao; the video below demonstrates that even now, cocoa farming continues to be popular in the Philippines, despite the global narrative about European production of chocolate and American consumption of chocolate.

Indonesia particularly grew in their share of the global cocoa market, while the Philippines began to grow in production of coconut oil instead (Hayami 2001, 190). Later in the nineteenth century, cacao spread from Indonesia westward across Asia and into Sri Lanka (C-spot, A Concise History of Chocolate). Not only was cocoa farming successful in the Philippines and Indonesia, the video below shows that ecological and technological advances allowed cocoa farming to become even more accessible, widespread, and environmentally conscious in the Philippines than it originally had been. So why does the narrative often stop at the introduction of cacao to the Philippines as a Spanish colony when there is so much more to the story? 

Although the widespread acceptance of chocolate in the Western world is a crucial element in the global history of chocolate, much of the existing research focuses solely on the European and North American cultivation, production, and consumption of chocolate as it spread from the elites to the masses. This leaves out an important element in the story of how chocolate rose to popularity in the global market: Asia, particularly regions in Southeast and South Pacific Asia, played a vital role in contributing to the successful cultivation and production of cocoa.

Works Cited

Chocolate House London C.1708. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

“Cocoa Farming – The Good Chocolate.” Video, 05:33. Youtube. Posted by John Croft, January 20, 2012.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate: With 99 Illustrations, 14 in Colour. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-spot.

French Chocolatieres. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons.

Hayami, Yujiro. “Ecology, History, and Development: A Perspective from Rural Southeast Asia.” The World Bank Research Observer 16, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 169-98.

Sampeck, Kathryn E., and Jonathan Thayn. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” In Substance and Seduction. Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, 72-99. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

The Two Faces of Chocolate: Food of the Gods and the Harbinger of Violence

A Brief History: Cocoa and Chocolate

The creamy, luxuriant, dark brown sweet of pure bliss – chocolate is the enticing candy with an irresistible taste of heaven and the Gods. Yet, little do we know, chocolate has had its tie to Gods since its origins in the New World. The story began in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree, termed Theobroma cocoa or “the food of the Gods”, flourished among the Mayan and Aztec civilizations way before the arrival of European colonizers (Coe and Coe, 1996). The cocoa beans were adopted in every aspect of life – beyond food, they were medicine; an offering in religious, marriage, and burial rituals; and money. The social, religious, and economic significance of cocoa was markedly noted by European ethnographers like Bernardino de Sahagun, and with the arrival of Columbus along with other colonizers, cocoa was brought to Europe. Using sugar, Europe transformed cocoa into chocolate, as the delicacy we know today, which quickly became a widely desired, palatable treat for the rich and poor alike. Not long after, chocolate was mass produced by chocolate manufacturers, and consequently, the chocolate empire took root.  

Underneath the Veil

Hidden beneath the veil of sweetness, however, the history of chocolate reveals a much more bitter reality weaved with violence. To satisfy the insatiable demand in the chocolate market, chocolate manufacturers turned to an incredibly exploitative system of obtaining their raw ingredient, cocoa. Chocolate, like many other imperial commodities, was the refined product of slavery and forced labor on plantation farms, and the consequences of this system can be felt up to today in the global racial, economic, and social landscapes.

The Atlantic Slave Trade

What fed into the imperial market and its strong economic interests was none other than the trans-Atlantic slave trade that uprooted millions of African people to the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe [figure 1]. An internal system of slavery persisted in Central and West Africa before the European exploitation, and this indigenous slavery provided fuel for the rise of this global slave trade (Rodney, 1966). The local slave trade was initially recorded and taken of interest by Portuguese chroniclers, who, in the 16th century, were the first to engage in the trade trans-Atlantic (Rodney, 1966). Other Europeans soon followed, and the slave trade bloomed into what supported colossal economies of commodities like sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and of course, cocoa. By the 19th century, various countries passed laws to ban the importation of slaves, including Britain, the United States, Spain, France and Portugal, but at that point, demands soared, and cocoa’s market had become wholly dependent on the slave trade for mass production. Here, we saw a surge of illegal slave trading under the pretense of contract labor.

Figure 1. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Route

The Chocolate Islands – Cadbury’s Cocoa Scandal:

The persistence of slave labor despite efforts to end it unfolded in the Cadbury cocoa scandal of the 1900s. Cadbury Bros, the British Quaker-owned chocolate company, dominated the market at the time and came under criticism when despite warnings of labor conditions and potential use of slaves, they continued to purchase cocoa produced by the plantations of the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese colony (Satre, 2005). Notably, Henry W. Nevinson, a journalist who documented his encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa in his later published book, “A Modern Slavery” [figure 2], marked that the dynamics of the labor market were as reported – laws passed to ban slavery were worthless, commercial interests begged to be satisfied, and by signing a paper, the slave was a “free” worker and everyone was happy. His report brought into light injustices against native Africans disguised in the legal pretense of contract labor. Disregarding Nevinson and other accounts of anti-slavery campaigners, Cadbury chose to make their own investigations into labor conditions of Sao Tome. Yet, even when these confirmed conditions on par with slavery on the cocoa plantations, Cadbury continued to be a major consumer of the cocoa product from Sao Tome, simply choosing to lobby the Portuguese government to more strictly implement their labor contract laws (Satre, 2005). While Cadbury did make some effort against the use of slavery, they undoubtedly fell short of their Quaker moral and ethical principles of justice and fair trade. The key issue in the persistence of slavery is highlighted here – commercial interests for profit constrain moral action from truly taking root.

Figure 2. “A Modern Slavery” accounted Nevinson’s encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa, a land where slavery should have been banned by law. The book became the center of controversy in the English political, economic, and humanitarian landscapes and eventually brought Cadbury to court for their purchase of cocoa from Sao Tome.

Modern Slavery, Child Laborers, Implications

This also comes to explain the reality we see today in “modern slavery”.  At the turn of the 21st century, widespread media reports uncovered child slavery on cocoa plantations in Cote d’ Ivoire, one of the major exporters of cocoa to the world market  (Manzo, 2005). An estimated 15,000 children workers were found to be working as slaves on the 600,000 cocoa farms in Cote d’ Ivoire and were subjected to inhumane conditions and extreme abuse (Chanthavong, 2002). The existence of a form of labor practically parallel to old slavery in modern times implicates many contributors in play, intentional and non-intentional. Whether it be the cocoa  farmers, the slave traffickers, the Ivorian government, the chocolate manufacturers, or us the consumers who buy chocolate at a supermarket, all are relevant to the existence of slave labor and the sufferings it incites. Perhaps the wake of a ravenous market like cocoa and chocolate inevitably demands cheap labor that spirals into exploitative systems of forced labor driven by greed and convenience, but we all have the responsibility to challenge the inevitable. We can begin to ask the next time we stand in the sweets aisle for a Hershey bar, are we playing into the cycle of perpetuating labor abuses? What can we do in our power to mitigate these abuses?

Figure 3. A Child Laborer in the Ivory Coast Harvesting Cocoa Pods

Works Cited

Chanthavong, Samlanchith (2002). Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire. TED Case Studies, Number 664.

COE, SOPHIE DOBZHANSKY (1933-1995)|COE, MICHAEL D. (b. 1929). (1996). The True History Of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Manzo, K. (2005). Modern slavery, global capitalism & deproletarianisation in West Africa. Review of African Political Economy32(106), 521–534. doi: 10.1080/03056240500467013

Rodney, W. (1966). African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade. The Journal of African History7(3), 431–443. doi: 10.1017/s0021853700006514

Satre, L. J. (2006). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press.

“A White Woman Dipped in Chocolate” Misogynoir and Cocoa Throughout History

When an aptly named German chocolate brand “Super Dickmann’s” posted this image of Meghan Markle, some people got upset while others laughed at their sensitivity.

The infamous tweet depicting mixed-race Meghan Markle as a chocolate-covered marshmallow

The German employee in charge of the corporate Facebook account was likely not aware that the comparison between African women and chocolate is imbued with historical misogynoir. Misogynoir, a term coined by black feminist Moya Bailey (Anyangwe, 2015), is double discrimination faced by black women where bias is both race and gender-based (Verve Team, 2018).

While women have long been seen as buyers, preparers and religious devotees of chocolate, the earliest depictions associated with chocolate were those of infants such as cupids or angels (Martin, 2020). Later, chocolate became associated with an idealized image of white womanhood, as society women became an important consumer demographic. An 1874 New York Times issue announced that wealthy women were the biggest purchasers of an “elaborate style of French candies.” New ads featured elegant white women and were meant to appeal to both the tastes of upper-class consumers and the aspirations of lower-class ones (Robertson, 2010).

Aspirational chocolate advertisements, such as this image from the 1970s, continued into the late 20th century

Such ads put white consumers at the forefront and minimized chocolate’s roots in West African agriculture. Romanticized images of white agricultural workers such as of this milkmaid carrying pails attempted to further erase chocolates’ African origins (Robertson, 2010).

Early 20th century Cadbury advertisement

These fictionalized images associated the labor required to produce chocolate with “wholesome whiteness” in the minds of consumers (Robertson, 2010). Notably, a 1930 Cadbury ad that does feature African women, shows them as faceless silhouettes balancing baskets brimming with cocoa pods on their heads (Robertson, 2010). While white women associated with chocolate were bestowed with good taste and wholesomeness, black women were dehumanized and fetishized through racist depictions.

In 1947 a new character “Honeybunch” was created to advertise Rowntree’s Cocoa (Robertson, 2010). Honeybunch looked infantile – barefoot and with bows in her hair. In this ad, she is dehumanized through the juxtaposition of her “imagined” character to “real” white people in the ad (Robertson, 2010).

Honeybunch and “real” white consumers

A 1950 ad goes further to depict Honeybunch as a spring bouncing out of tin of cocoa – an example of a common trope of Africans drawn as actual cocoa (Robertson, 2010) This association of a person with an edible object further solidifies the idea that black people are false commodities (Polanyi, 2001). According to Polanyi, labor is one of those fictitious commodities to which the market mechanisms should not apply (2001). According to Polanyi, not only labor but also the laborer can become commodities for sale if the commodity function of labor is prioritized (2001). Commodity function of labor is the low labor cost for the sake of lower prices, and in the case of chocolate, low labor costs help support higher remuneration for cocoa processors and chocolate producers instead of African workers. This problem persists into modernity: according to the Cocoa Barometer, cocoa farmer households earn merely 37% of living income in Côte d’Ivoire, the leader in cocoa bean production supplying 40% of world’s cocoa (2018).

Blackness is also objectified and commodified through the association between black skin and chocolate – a trope that still pervades today. Food-related descriptions have long been used to describe dark skin. While light foundation shades are often called “nude” or “fair,” darker shades are often named after commodities such as cocoa or coffee. This further solidifies the toxic idea that white womanhood is the default, and objectifies black womanhood through comparisons with edible objects.

A 2004 ice cream advertisement conceived in Brazil

Even black women of the same status as the white women in chocolate ads are not immune to dehumanizing fetishization. In 1976, a magazine editor described supermodel Iman as “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” (Oliver, 2015). The editor’s baffling comment is akin to Charlie’s question about whether the Oompa Loompas, which were distinctly African in the original book, are made out of chocolate (Robertson, 2010).

The fact that class cannot protect black women from misogynoir sheds critical light on “respectability politics,” an ideology that emphasizes the need for black people to gain respect and “uplift the race” by correcting ‘undesirable” characteristics and embodying desirable ones (Harris, 2014). Racist treatment of Iman despite her social prominence parallels the way companies such as Rowntree or Cadbury used depictions of black girls and women like Honeybunch for their “distinct difference” while dehumanizing them.

Pat McGrath, one of the most prominent makeup artists of the century, also had a cocoa related story that shed light on how designers who hire black models failed to provide them with equal supplies. McGrath often had to use cocoa powder on set because she wasn’t provided with darker makeup shades (Prinzivalli, 2019).

A group of black women has found a way to use the association between dark skin and chocolate for their benefit, creating a food-inspired makeup brand “Beauty Bakerie,” which counts cocoa-flavored powder among its products.

The “Beauty Bakerie” website

And what about Pat McGrath who had to use food instead of makeup? Her beauty empire is now worth almost a billion dollars – and her dark foundation colors are named Medium Deep and Deep instead of cocoa and chocolate (Mpinja, 2018).


Anyangwe, E. (2015, October 5). Misogynoir: where racism and sexism meet. Retrieved from

Fountain, A and Friedel, H. (2018). Cocoa Barometer

Harris, F.C. (2014). The Rise of Respectability Politics. Dissent 61(1), 33-37. doi:10.1353/dss.2014.0010.

Mpinja, B. (2018, July 23). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Is the Self-Made Beauty Billionaire We Need. Retrieved from

Phillip, N. (2018, October 23). My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad. Retrieved from

Oliver, D. (2015, September 10). Iman Opens Up About Deeply Upsetting Career Moment. Retrieved from

Polanyi, karl. The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time. Boston: bEACON, 2001. Prin

Prinzivalli, L. (2019, May 21). Why Makeup Artist Pat McGrath Grew Up Using Cocoa Powder as Foundation. Retrieved from

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

Team, V. E. R. V. E. (2018, September 4). Feminist Facts: What is Misogynoir? Retrieved from

Chocolate Practices During the Enlightenment Era from Europe to the Colonies

Today, coffee shops are a modern staple. While everyone goes to them to buy an assortment of teas and coffees, they also go for the ambiance. They go to study, to catch up with friends, and to do business. What we know today as the modern coffee shop – whether that be national chains like Starbucks or local neighborhood joints – has its origins in the Enlightenment period.

In fact, the modern coffee shop is closely associated with, surprisingly, the history of the social practices that developed out of the “Age of Reason’s” economics and social understandings of chocolate. This age saw rapid rises in both consumerism and critiques of social norms, and although it spawned more well-known events like the American and French Revolutions, this time period also drastically changed how Europe and the British colonies engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.

Each region’s interaction with these drinks depended on a series of economic and cultural factors. On the surface it might appear as if economic factors were solely responsible for dictating how and why chocolate was consumed in different regions. However, cultural and social understandings were also crucial for influencing the ways that countries engaged with chocolate, coffee, and tea.

Northern Europe               

In Northern Europe, the consumption of chocolate – which at the time was a beverage – grew alongside the region’s consumption of coffee and tea. All of these drinks were served in the first coffeeshops, which were called coffeehouses. These places became popular due to rising demand for spaces where the middle class and gentry could come together to discuss social issues, politics, and develop critical opinions of the established social norms.

Coffeehouses were boisterous places of debate as Dr. Matthew Green reminisces in his TED talk, and these spaces contributed to literary, philosophical and radical innovations (McComb, White). The first coffeehouse was opened in Britain in 1655 by a Turkish merchant, and from there, the institution grew rapidly (Mintz, 111). Coffeehouses became places where people could get both their news and their cheap, quick fix for the day.

“You have all Manner of News there: You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please : You have a Dish of Coffee ; you meet your friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more”

– Late 17th Century French Traveler (Mintz, 111)

In English coffeehouses, chocolate was consumed at a significantly lower rates than coffee and tea. In 1680, coffee was consumed at about 224,000 pounds a year as chocolate was only consumed at about 6,000 pounds a year. At first chocolate competed with coffee, but by 1750, it was served alongside coffee and not in competition to the drink (McComb). There were two prominent reasons why chocolate was not consumed at as high of rates.

First, it was more expensive than coffee and tea. The transportation costs of getting cacao to Europe from the Americas were expensive, and high tariffs also radically increased the price of the good (Gay). However, while the price made chocolate less desirable, this is not the whole story; the social associations that Northern Europeans had with chocolate also decreased the amount it was consumed.

Chocolate was heavily associated with the Catholic clergy, so many philosophes in coffeehouses avoided chocolate beverages out of principle. They understood coffee to be a sobering stimulant that led to productivity, while in contrast, chocolate was associated with leisure and the aristocracy (Coe). Moreover, in England, nobility was not the same as it was in Spain: only the eldest sons could inherit land and titles and the rest became commoners. Because of this, there was less incentive to maintain chocolate as an aristocratic privilege, as it was mostly a drink only for the elite in most countries because of its price. Men in coffeehouses preferred egalitarian environments for diverse debates, so coffeehouses became places where people of all ranks sat alongside each other. Hence, chocolate lost its aristocratic allure in England as men let go of class distinctions and flaunting wealth in coffeehouses (White).

Southern Europe

In Southern Europe, chocolate was heavily consumed. Throughout Europe, Spain – the nation of chocolate drinkers – was known for producing the best chocolate. Chocolate was the preferred drink of the church hierarchy, and it was only reserved for the upper and middle classes. At breakfast, they ate it with cold water, and at night, they consumed it before their evening siestas (Coe).

Because Spain did not have a popular movement of philosophes building coffeehouses, coffee was in short supply in Spain until the latter half of 18th century. When coffee-houses finally sprung up in Madrid, only men were allowed inside, while women had to stay in their coaches and have cold drinks brought to them (Coe). This was a common practice in coffeehouses because of the common belief that women were not able to reason.

As chocolate became with royal and papal absolutism, which were “inimical” to the Enlightenment, Spain eventually popularized tea and coffee. Spain wanted to hold a dignified position among modern nations, but chocolate beverages did not lose their cultural popularity among the elite. As coffee and tea came to symbolize civilization and liberty, the Spanish still partook in social gatherings that centered around their traditional chocolate consumption. These traditions were characterized by foreigners as “tedious and boring” (Coe).

The Americas

In general, British colonists consumed more chocolate than those in Britain even though they were isolated from the phenomenon of British coffeehouses and mostly took their chocolate drinks at home (Coe, Gay). They consumed more because chocolate was cheaper in the Americas. They did not have to pay importation duties or the steep costs of shipping cacao across the Atlantic Ocean. However, chocolate consumption varied between the Northern and Southern colonies.

The Northern and Mid-Atlantic colonies became large-scale chocolate manufacturers, and in the 18th century, the colonists knew a lot about the chocolate they were eating. They would refer to chocolate by its port of origin, and they knew much more about where their chocolate was coming from than could even be possible to trace in the present day. However, while they produced a lot of chocolate, they exported over 70% of the chocolate they produced to Europe. Instead of consuming chocolate in exorbitant amounts like the aristocratic elite in southern Europe, they looked to coffee as a stimulant to increase their productivity like Northern Europeans (Gay).

The Southern colonies, on the other hand, were mainly consumers of chocolate: they modeled the posh customs of the aristocracy in Spain. Chocolate was a sign of wealth in social circles, However, southern colonists adapted recipes to meet the needs of their own cultural tastes. Because many did not like the fattiness of traditional chocolate drinks, southern colonists steeped cocoa shells in hot water, which created an infusion similar in flavor and color to coffee. This was not seen as a “lower” sort of drink for those who could not afford chocolate, but instead, was a product of the wealthy. Southern colonists also ate cocoa in puddings, creams, and ice creams, and developed chocolate almonds which became a staple recipe in many households (Gay).

As these three examples demonstrated, economics played a role in how, where, and by whom chocolate was consumed. However, cultural and social associations did as well. Some chose to consume chocolate to raise their social status in their communities while others rejected it to support the egalitarian and “productive” communities around them. While these traditions birthed the coffeeshop (albeit it looks much different today), it also might still influence our understandings of coffee and chocolate. Most people drink coffee to stay awake and be productive, while chocolate is seen as an indulging activity that we consume when we are sad or wanting to be unproductive.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Gay, James F. Chocolate Production and Uses in 17th and 18th Century North America. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009, Productio.pdf

McComb, Sophie. Fostering Enlightenment Coffeehouse Culture in the Present. The University of Texas at Austin , May 2015,

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Viking, 1985.

White, Matthew. Newspapers, Gossip and Coffee-House Culture. The British Library, 11 Apr. 2018,

Visual media

Epic Chocolate: Chocolate in Mythology, Rites, and Reality

            Cacao was an almost divine substance to the Classical Maya, often venerated as the “food of the gods.”[1] This was not without reason as cacao doesn’t only taste good, it also provides a myriad of medicinal benefits. Many Mayan myths and rituals were based off the existence of cacao, from the myth of creation to rites of death. Like all myths, Mayan myths involving chocolate have some basis in fact. In this post, I will explore two Mayan myths –the myth of the Hero Twins and the revival of the Maize God– and explain their relationship to Mayan rites and the real-world benefits of cacao.

            All three myths and rites discussed in this post are part of the greater creation myth of the Maya. This Smithsonian video sums up the creation myth, and briefly describes some of the mythology behind the stories in this post:

Smithsonian video about the Mayan myth of creation

The Hero Twins

            The video from the Smithsonian somewhat describes the Hero Twins’ relationship with cacao – they were born from it. The Popul Vuh narrates the divine origin of cacao, with the cacao tree as the embodiment of the Maize God and cacao as the seed with which he impregnates an Underworld maiden, who then gives birth to Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the Hero Twins.[2] The Hero Twins were, quite literally, born from cacao. Their lives are subsequently chronicled in the Popul Vuh, in which they are described as, among other things, great ball players,[3] and strong and witty warriors.[4]

The Mayans likely believed that those traits of the Hero Twins could be transferred to themselves when they used cacao, the fruit responsible for the life of the Hero Twins. Warriors who consumed cacao before battle were energized and considered invincible, and cacao pods were often worn as a form of spiritual protection, or as a costume for ball games.[5] This is consistent with the reality of cacao – cacao contains methylxanthines like caffeine and theobromine, and methylxanthines are shown to have stimulant effects.[6] Therefore, it is quite likely that the consumption of cacao was beneficial to warriors and ball players, and thus easily connected with the customs of the Mayans and their myths.

The Revival of the Maize God

            After getting killed by the gods of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, the Maize God was decapitated, and his head was placed into a barren tree. The tree, which had never borne fruit until that point, flourished and became covered in round fruit indistinguishable from the head of the Maize God, turning into the calabash tree.[7] It is likely that the “calabash tree” in which the head of the Maize God was placed was a general cauliflory tree, as the Maize God was able to produce cacao for birthing the Hero Twins. The resurrection of the Maize God was the success of the Hero Twins. This late-Classical codex-style plate depicts the Hero Twins aiding the Maize God in his escape from Xibalba:

Codex-style plate depicting the escape of the Maize God

The athletically gifted Hero Twins defeated the gods of Xibalba in a ball game, enraging the gods so much that they slew the twins. Yet, this was part of the twins’ ingenious plan, as they enlisted the aid of men stuck in Xibalba to grind up their bones and throw them in one of the rivers running through Xibalba. Once the twins’ bone dust settled in the river, they were reborn with godly powers, that they used to outwit, overpower, and slay the gods of Xibalba, opening up a path for their father, the Maize God, to come back to life.[8] The Hero Twins were not only able to travel into and out of Xibalba safely, but were also able to defeat the evil gods.

It is quite likely that the Mayans believed that the Hero Twins, those born of cacao, would provide some protection for when the Mayans died and traveled to Xibalba. Thus, cacao was an important part of funeral rites – people, particularly royals, were buried with chocolate drinking vessels filled with beverages derived from cacao, meant to spiritually ease their transition into Xibalba.[9]

Rio Azul Vessel

The famous Rio Azul vessels pictured above, found in the grave of a dead lord and believed to have contained several types of chocolate drinks, are a great example of this.[10] They were the first physical, chemical evidences of Mayans being buried with chocolate beverage, and, along with other codex depictions, show the importance of chocolate in funerary rites. This connection between funerary rites and myth is once again consistent with the reality of the benefits of cacao. Cacao contains epicatechin, a compound whose effects are similar to a mild anesthetic,[11] and can serve to create normal blood flow in humans, especially those with high blood pressure.[12] For those close to death, cacao would provide some amount of relief, and would help ease them into their deaths, and thus into Xibalba.

[1] Coe & Coe, 17.

[2] S. Martin, 164.

[3] Popul Vuh, Chapter 9.

[4] Popul Vuh, Chapter 13.

[5] C. Martin, Lecture 2, Slide 52.

[6] Franco et al.

[7] S. Martin, 164.

[8] Popul Vuh, Chapter 12-14. 

[9] C. Martin, Lecture 2, Slide 41; Coe & Coe, 41.

[10] Coe & Coe, 41.

[11] C. Martin, Lecture 2, Slide 53.

[12] Hooper et al.

Text Sources

Coe, Michael D. and Sophie D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate, 3rd edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Franco, Rafael, et al. “Health Benefits of Methylxanthines in Cacao and Chocolate.” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 10, 2013, pp. 4159–4173., doi:10.3390/nu5104159.

Goetz, Delia, and Sylvanus G. Morley. Popul Vuh. Plantin Press, 1954.

Hooper, Lee, et al. “Effects of Chocolate, Cocoa, and Flavan-3-Ols on Cardiovascular Health: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 95, no. 3, 2012, pp. 740–751., doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.023457.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”. Lecture, February 5, 2020.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion: First Fruit from the Maize Tree and Other Tales from the Underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica a Cultural History of Cacao, by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2006, pp. 154–183.

Multimedia Sources

Hall, Grant D., et al. “Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala.” American Antiquity, vol. 55, no. 1, 1990. JSTOR,

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Codex-Style Plate.” Codex-Style Plate – Works – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, The Creation Story of the Maya. YouTube, 14 June 2012.

Slave to Pleasure: How the Demand for Labor to Produce Cacao and Sugar Drove the Slave Trade

The slave trade was a brutally dehumanizing affair that ultimately resulted in the forced displacement of more than 12 million African men, women, and children. Driven by the demand for cheap labor, greedy traders – primarily from the United Kingdom, Portugal, and the Netherlands – stole people from their native lands across the continent of Africa and shipped them to the new world as involuntary labor for the colonies (The Transatlantic Slave Trade). These enslaved individuals were then forced to produce many of the cash crops (see image below) that powered the emerging industrial economies of Europe and contributed to the creation and consolidation of immense wealth for those individuals who were in positions from which they could take advantage of the free labor, namely those in the planter class and professionals who provided the initial cash in the form of collectives. Given these conditions, it is important to recognize that the slave trade was a manifestation of the extant power dynamics between Africans and Europeans. Africans, as a result of the distinct fragmentation and systems of rule in their tribes in comparison to the Europeans, were unable to design effective systems in which they would be able to resist the infiltration of the Europeans, and this, ultimately, left their people vulnerable to enslavement as a result of local war, kidnapping, ransoming, and other horrific, deceitful acts committed by the Europeans. Identifying political tensions, religious differences, economic crises, etc. as weaknesses, the Europeans chose to exploit them for their own benefit and seized the opportunity they saw to obtain free labor to produce those crops that were becoming essential to the European economy (The Transatlantic Slave Trade). The growing popularity of cash crops (sugar, cotton, cocoa, etc.) and expanding European consumption powered the enslavement of Africans and maintained the system of slavery that would quickly emerge in the colonies as a direct result of demand outpacing the capacity of free production; the plantation owners’ constant needs for labor would outweigh any moral obligation to fellow man.

An image of the cash crops most dependent on slave labor: sugar, rum, rice, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa.

The Europeans’ engagement in the commodification of human beings exhibited a callous disregard for human life. Lowell Satre’s Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business specifically analyzes the evolution of slavery in the Portuguese colonies as it related to the production of chocolate. In the opening chapter, Satre details the journey of one English journalist, Henry Nevinson, into Angola’s interior, commonly referred to as the “Hungry Country.” Nevinson’s trip uncovered the sordid details of the new version of slavery occurring in the early 1900s despite the fact that Portugal had abolished slavery in all of its colonies in the 1870s (Satre 2). This new system was occurring under the guise of “contract labor.” Under this system, “the curator general of Angola was responsible for ensuring that the contract binding a worker for five years was legal and that its provisions….were appropriate” (Satre 7).  This “contract” was renewable after five years and magistrates were required to enforce the conditions; however, this protection was only provided in the legal sense, and the serviçal (contract laborer), in reality, was not free (Satre 7). Despite the fact that Portugal had abolished slavery in the 1870s, they had done nothing to replace the “free” labor that the plantation owners had grown accustomed to, and as a result, the owners’ desperate need for workers led to the emergence of a contract labor system that was, in reality, not contractual labor. Within the Portuguese empire, as well as in other systems that were transitioning from slave labor, this system of indentured servitude without the promised repatriation and wages (workers were often forced to spend their money at plantation stores on food and clothing and other necessities), was a disguise for slavery. 

An image of Henry W. Nevinson, the man who published the first reports of the redesigned slavery occurring in the Portuguese empire.

The abolition of slavery, particularly in the crop producing colonies, was not easy, especially given the many varied interests. In the case of the chocolate companies, the first conflict arose because of reports that laborers were not free, and this posed a serious problem for many company owners, particularly the Quaker chocolate producers like Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry. Morally, these companies all objected to the use of involuntary/slave labor and the discovery that their chocolate was produced in such a manner caused them a great deal of strife. On the one hand, if they chose to boycott the plantations, they would lose their bargaining power; on the other hand, by maintaining their business with these plantations, they were complicit in the maintenance of a new system of slavery. This tension led to their inability to take strong, assertive action to remedy the situation and put the appropriate amount of pressure on the Portuguese government. (Satre). These tensions faced by the chocolate producers illuminate just how interlinked different systems of power were with slavery. From owners of the means of production to government to people who provided the news to the citizenry, everyone was tied to the profits of slavery. The company owners who benefitted from the cheap price of cacao produced on San Tome and Principe had a lot to lose if they wanted to guarantee that labor was voluntary; it would have driven the cost of their product up and affected their gross profit. 

Another obstacle to the abolition of slavery was the relationship between various governments. As English subjects, the chocolate companies looked to the British Foreign Office to put pressure on the Portuguese, but the British were limited in just how much pressure they could apply – the Portuguese were involved with the labor they were “employing” in South Africa and would view any action they took as hypocritical. Moreover, the general ineffectiveness of the Portuguese officials prevented any real action from being taken. Nevinson wrote that, “Portuguese authority was ineffective. Portugal’s civil and military officials, and its traders as well, operated outside the law, and whatever authority officials exercised was either misused or abused” (Satre 6-7). The planters also had a huge stake in the abolition movement. If slavery was truly abolished, they would see all of their profits quickly disappear. Cash crops were already a very risky business (fluctuating prices cause a lot of people to go bankrupt), but the end of slavery would signify the total destruction of their way of life. In addition, many of them truly believed that they were not doing anything wrong. A few planters asserted that they “have a right to transfer labour from colony to colony at will without foreign interference – this is not emigration while under one government and therefore no repatriation is needful”  (Satre 96). These planters also had the support of government officials. In Catherine Higgs’ Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, she quotes Jerónimo Paiva de Carvalho, a Portuguese government official on the island of Principe, who states, “Laborers…enjoyed working conditions superior to those of crews who served on British ships and they were also treated better than most rural workers in Europe….On the Porto Real and Esperança roças on Príncipe… great attention was paid to worker’s housing, clothing, labor assignments, salaries, and healthcare…. ‘If this is slavery, then we are completely in the dark about the problem of manual labor in the colonies’” (Higgs 139)

A map of colonized Africa, circa 1898, displaying the various possessions, protectorates, spheres of influence, and occupation of each country.

Overall, the issue of slavery was not an easy one to answer.  The interconnectedness of various systems created a cycle that reinforced itself – as more goods were produced in the system and generated more wealth, the demand only increased, which further increased the demand for labor.

Works Cited

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Pp. 133-165

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power. Pp. 151-214

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Pp. 1-32, 73-99

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” AAME,

Charity Begins at Home, Not Abroad: The Cadbury Chronicles

The Cadbury name has been synonymous in the global marketplace with quality chocolate. It’s often smuggled back to the States by well intentioned travelers and sold at international grocers in order to give immigrants a taste of home and Americans a taste of “real chocolate”, in addition to now entering the American marketplace. However, it’s sweet beginnings are not as pure or idyllic as its advertisements, or popular history, would like to make it seem.

The Cadburys’ focus on the ethical treatment of their factory workers, support for the free press, and general support for progressive values are a prime example of the moral righteousness that allow people to begin, and end, charity at home. Although George Cadbury eventually enabled the end to the exploitative servicai system in Sao Tome and Principe, he significantly delayed the process out of fear of hurting the company’s business interests, thus exposing the true nature of the Cadburys’ progressive facade.

The Golden Boys

When John Cadbury first began his chocolatiering business in the 1830s, he had already established himself as a fierce advocate for bettering society, fighting against child labor, animal cruelty, and other social ills (Carniege Medal of Philanthropy). He even advertised chocolate as a substitute for alcohol, as a strong proponent of the temperance movement. His sons, Richard and George, did not stray from their father’s progressive path, as they were all strong Quakers (Satre, 14). The Cadbury brothers, Richard and George, prided themselves on running an efficient and morally upstanding workplace. This meant that the workweek was strictly regulated to forty hours, married women were barred from working in the factory, and there was a strict separation of the sexes at work.

An image of the Cadbury’s idyllic Bournville, which was advertised in a Guardian newspaper clipping from September 23rd 1901, headlined as “The Cadbury brothers not only built a new factory but they tried to improve the lives of their workers by providing decent housing” (Image Sourced from the Guardian Archives)

Moreover, they strictly adhered to the Quaker principle of “providing aid to the less fortunate” (Satre, 15). George Cadbury financed low-cost and low-interest housing for his employees and made significant donations to religious education for adults. They worked to establish the model village of Bourneville, a village in which workers could both live and thrive, where they would have access to kitchens, dressing rooms, athletic fields, and gardens. Outside of his chocolatiering, George Cadbury was also a newspaper proprietor that championed the Liberal Party and progressive values, like the anti-war effort, pensions for the elderly, fair labor standards (Satre, 16). In short, the Cadbury brothers prided themselves as champions of the people and fierce anti-slavery advocates, in order to remain true to their Quaker ideals. Even today, the Cadbury name remains as synonymous to philanthropy as it does to chocolate.

A plaque engraved on a British Historic site, showcasing how publicly venerated the Cadburys were for their philanthropy. (image sourced from Wikipedia)

A Slow Reckoning

Seemingly unbeknownst to the Cadburys and the international world, the areas from which they were sourcing their cocoa were utilizing a Portuguese system of labor called servicai, in which workers entered labor contracts that bound them to their employers for five years at a time. This contractural labor system was essentially debt slavery, where employees were never paid their repatriation wages, never allowed to return back to their homes, and were forced to work under heinous and oppressive conditions.

An image depicting the plantations where servicai were forced to process cocoa in Sao Tome. (Source: Sao Tome and Principe Travel and Tourism Information, 2012)

The Cadbury Company officially recorded in its records that some form of slavery, either total or partial, exsisted in its cocoa estates in Sao Tome in April 1901 (Satre, 18). However, Satre appropriately questions the delay of such record, considering the widespread evidence of the servicai system’s use in Sao Tome and Principe in Protestant circles by the late 19th century.

  In A Civilized Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, Kevin Grant highlights that one can say “with actual certainty that in the 1890s the Foreign Office, the Anti-Slavery Society”, of which the Cadbury brothers were strong supporters, “the Friends’ Anti-Slavery Committee, the BMS, and the Plymouth Brethern” all believed that slavery was utilized at the cocoa plantations in Sao Tome and Principe. Yet, the Cadburys, who began to purchase cocoa from the island in 1886 , claimed they had “no definite knowledge” of slavery until 1901 (Grant, 120). 

Moreover, William Cadbury gave “inconsistent accounts” of how he and the company become aware of the slavery situation. In one instance, he explains that the issue was brought to his attention in 1902, when a missionary from Angola visited Bournville to discuss the issue. In another account, he claimed that he learned of the “unsatisfactory labor conditions” from a 1901 report from the Foreign Office (Grant, 122). Some would could ask–why the inconsistencies? Why didn’t the Cadbury’s pull out of Sao Tome as soon as they learned what was happening, especially considering their Quaker roots?

The Inconvenient Truths

Despite officially learning about the situation in Sao Tome in 1901, and more realistically, even earlier, the Cadburys were extremely slow to act. William Cadbury grappled with the issue, debating whether or not the servicai system was truly akin to slavery–despite the fact that the bill of sale of one of the properties on the island specifically identified its human employees as property (Satre, 19). Moreover, he claimed he wasn’t sure how similar the servicai system was to “gold or diamond mining”, which was more ostensibly gruesome and more popularly linked to slavery, and thus, did not want to act brashly and injure a system with “one of the very best kinds of labor” the Cadburys had seen (Satre, 19).

In order to further investigate the situation, William Cadbury embarked on his own expedition to analyze the nature of labor on the Island. Despite hearing numerous testimonials of the brutality of the system, he remained optimistic that the Portuguese government would simply instate new labor regulations and all would be well. The Cadbury company later financed Joseph Burtt’s expedition and report of the reality of labor conditions in Sao Tome, but allowed for the report to be put on bureaucratic back-hold for eight years. The question arises–why do all this? Why go on an expedition, only to then ask for a change in labor conditions? Why finance the creation of a report, but allow for it to go unseen for years? The answer is simple: a maintenance of power.

As of the early 20th century, Cadbury was sourcing 45% of its cocoa from the island of Sao Tome. They didn’t want to pull out of Sao Tome, despite knowing about the labor conditions, because their supply chain relied on it. Initially, they hoped people wouldn’t recognize their involvement or hoped that the international world would turn a blind eye. But, as more and more people caught wind of what was happening in Sao Tome, they knew they couldn’t continue to feign ignorance, so they bought themselves time. They involved themselves in lengthy interviews and personnel finding expeditions in order to act as if they were addressing the problem, all while they continued to export thousands of pounds of cocoa from the island. When it came down to making the noble choice and making the financially smart choice–they chose the smart choice. The charity they practiced at home was not the same charity they practiced abroad, because they didn’t need it to be. They cared far less about the working conditions of foreign Africans than they did of their native English folk, and it wasn’t even an issue of proximity, considering the trips they took to the islands, it was an issue of humanity. Contractural laborers weren’t as deserving of their Quaker charity, it seems.

Academic Sources

Coe, Sophie and Michael Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson. London, UK.

Grant, Kevin. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926. Routledge, 2004. 

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

From Chokola’j to Chocolate, How an Indigenous Good Became The Product of Mass Consumption.

Understanding the historical change of chocolate from an indigenous experience to one of mass consumption is crucial when seeking to understand why capitalist systems are built around certain foods. In the case of chocolate, there were two underlying factors that led to the globalization and mass production of this substance. The first being the very nature of cacao as a social food. The experience of cacao had a great social value that made it appealing to European colonizers. Cacao could be easily integrated into different societies and fit into religion, nutrition, and even socioeconomic class. Cacao’s social value increased demand and developed a huge market potential for chocolate production. The second factor was the wide range and scale of chocolate, culinarily. This led to its mass hybridization, allowing it conforming to all different tastes and preferences making it more economically profitable.

Food is fundamentally social, but some food more than others. Cacao began as a social food in indigenous communities in South America. Cacao’s several names Theobroma Cacao meaning “drink of the Gods” and Chokola’j meaning “to drink together” are representative of the fact that cacao held great social value in indigenous communities. The ritual consumption of cacao was framed as a sensory experience and was held sacred in spiritual and medicinal purposes. Nahuatl songs depicted cacao as divine and the experience of drinking cacao was said to evoke somatic states (Sampeck 74). Creating and consuming different tastes of cacao was also part of its rituals. However, the pre-Columbian preparation of the drink was not standardized among indigenous communities. Each had its own particular recipe for growing, processing, and seasoning cacao (Sampeck 77). Cacao was made with vanilla, chili peppers, and several different fruits (Sampeck 77). Archeological remains prove that there were various blends of cacao drinks. Cacao has also been used as currency in many Mesoamerican communities adding to its social value (Sampeck 82).

Image: Indigenous person holding a cacao pod. The depiction of this sculpture is relevant to the fact that cacao held great value in indigenous communities as many remains show indigenous individuals with cacao. 

“File: Cacao Aztec Sculpture.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 21 Nov 2019, 15:45 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:24 <>.

Compared to a staple food like maize, which was widely consumed among indigenous communities, Cacao was more important due to its social significance and various infusions. Its popularization among indigenous people transferred to Europe when the Spanish arrived and devastated Indigenous populations. While both foods, cacao and maize, were transferred to Europe during the Columbian exchange the intrinsic social value associated with cacao remained. Because of cacao’s multifunctional communal uses and various flavors deemed it valuable, it could cater to European social culture in a way that maize couldn’t. This is essentially what allowed cacao to be mass-produced, as consumer demand increased market potential also increased. Also, complementary goods that became to be associated with chocolate also help to grow the developing market. (Minz 8)

When the Spanish were introduced to cacao in the 1500s they were intrigued by the many distinctive uses of cacao in indigenous communities (Christain 2). They sought to integrate this somatic, social, and economical use into the frameworks of their own society and it was very easy to do so. Cacao was unique because it was one of the few foods that could survive the long voyage from South America to Europe, in what would later be known as the Columbian exchange. Once cacao reached Europe it was easy to integrate into the lives of many who could afford to overindulge in the good because of its intrinsic social value and its various flavors that could cater to all types of people. Cacao, now known as chocolate, spread across Europe. Chocolate, still in the drink form, appeared in French and British high society and chocolate social houses that catered to the social elite. (Lovemann 29)

Image: Chocolate social houses for the elite in Britain, shows that chocolate had an ingrain social value that could be transferred to different society’s worlds apart. “File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 30 Jan 2020, 13:58 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:26 <>

The spread of cacao across Europe also contributed to the transcontinental diffusion of cacao and variations of taste due to the blend of cacao with other substances. Europeans used sugar, cinnamon, and milk to form the different tastes of chocolate. 

Cacao’s inherent social value and its various blends are a huge part of the reason why it would later be mass-produced. Because it could be shared among many different individuals in society with different preferences, it became a product of desire which led to increased demand. Supply met this demand soon after during the Industrial Revolution. The social value and hybridizations of chocolate grew on the onset of the Industrial Revolution when chocolate was commodified and made widely available to the poor (Carlo 1). In the 1800s, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten extracted the fat from chocolate using alkaline salts (Carlo 1). This made it much more affordable to produce and it was sold at a cheaper price, which made it available to different socioeconomic classes. Later, Joseph Fry made the first solid chocolate bar and Rodolphe Lindt created the first conching machine changing chocolate’s taste and texture to what we know it today (Carlo 1).

Image: depictions of some of today’s diverse chocolate flavors, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate. This demonstrates how chocolate could conform to all tastes and preferences appealing to larger groups of people.

“File:Chocolate(bgFFF).jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 3 Apr 2017, 15:18 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:25 <>.

Chocolates inherent social uses and it a range and scale in form and flavor changed how it was consumed worldwide. Chocolate fit into the global market because it met the demand of individuals looking to overindulge and socialize. Chocolate stands apart in variety. The degree to which cacao was modified appealed to new groups of people increasing social value and developing a larger market for the production and consumption of the good. However, the integration of chocolate into European societies and the distinctive taste formed, speaks to the tragedies of colonialism and the erasure of indigenous practices that encompassed cacao. 

Works cited: 

Sampeck, Kathryn, and Jonathan Thayn. 2017. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” pp. 72-99

Mintz, Sidney. 1986[1985]. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.

Christian, Mark. “Ethical Chocolate & Social Capitalism: Consumers of the World Unite.” Spot, 25 Mar. 2011,

Loveman, Kate. “The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640-1730.” Journal of Social History, vol. 47, no. 1, 2013, pp. 27–46. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Mar. 2020.

Christian, Mark. “Ethical Chocolate & Social Capitalism: Consumers of the World Unite.” Spot, 25 Mar. 2011,

Carlo, Juan. “How Did Chocolate Become so Popular?” Why Is Chocolate So Popular? | Juan Carlo Blog, 28 Feb. 2017,

“File:Cacao Aztec Sculpture.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 21 Nov 2019, 15:45 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:24 <>.

“File:Chocolate(bgFFF).jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 3 Apr 2017, 15:18 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:25 <>.“File:Chocolate-house-london-c1708.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 30 Jan 2020, 13:58 UTC. 27 Mar 2020, 20:26 <>

Rich Chocolate, Rich Mayans, and Their Rituals

The Rich Chocolate:

When we consume rich, delicious chocolate, what we often fail to understand, more so than its impact on our health, is its history. There are two common misconceptions surrounding chocolate. The first of which is the assumption that chocolate is essentially the same as cacao; in actuality, chocolate is a product created through an extensive preparation of the seeds of cacao, a raw material taken from the tree. Second, we often make the mistake of believing chocolate found its roots in European history. This is a completely false impression, one which has been sustained by centuries of misleading advertisements and products. Spanish invaders actually “derived their earliest real knowledge of cacao, and the very word ‘cacao’” from the Maya, an ancient civilization of the Yucatán Peninsula (Coe, & Coe; pg 421). In fact, for these Mesoamericans, cacao served as much more than a flavorful taste. Cacao played a significant role in the social, spiritual, and ritualistic practices of the Mayan societies, earning a highly symbolic role in Maya culture.

The Rich Mayans:

For the Maya people, “cacao was a proper offering in healing rituals, to endorse marriage alliances, and to ensure successful travel,” as well as in banquets, weddings, and burials (Martin & Sampeck; pg 39). Through extensive research, archaeologists and Mayanists have determined that the Maya elite class would host special feasts in which a drink made from cacao would be consumed. Although there is evidence which proves the ceremonial use of chocolate by the nobility and the rulers, it remains unknown whether chocolate was also consumed regularly in more casual settings by all of the Mayan people (Davidson; pg 485). Nonetheless, the consistent presence of cacao in such meaningful traditions speaks to the undebatable importance of cacao in the eyes of the Mayans. This presence was able to be documented with confidence due to the hieroglyphic writing employed by the Maya. Through studying various texts and inscribed vessels, researchers determined that “among the things [Mayans] wrote about was cacao” (Coe, & Coe; pg 538). Unfortunately, due to the use of “perishable bark paper,” only four books still exist and can continue to be interpreted (Coe, & Coe; pg 538). Out of these four books, two contain noteworthy references to cacao: the Dresden Codex and Madrid Codex.

The Dresden Codex

The Rituals:

In the Dresden Codex, there are several sections which address the “ritual activities tied in to the Maya’s sacred 260-day cycle” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). The text contains images which depict gods holding cacao pods, as well as dishes containing cacao beans. We can be certain that these beans are in fact cacao due to the discovery of a Russian epigrapher, Yuri V. Knorosov. In the 1950s, he deciphered how to interpret and read these Maya texts. Knorosov figured out the “phonetic part of the [hieroglyphic] script” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). Thus, he unlocked our ability to observe the many explicit references to cacao pods and beans in these texts. In one section of the Dresden Codex, there is text above each deity which states “that what is held in the hand is ‘his cacao [u kakaw]’” (Coe, & Coe; pg 564). Additionally, a page of the Dresden “dealing with the New Year ceremonies so important in the Post-Classic Yucatán,” includes a segment where “the Opossum God travels a sacred road to the edge of the town carrying the Rain God on his back, while the associated text tells us that ‘cacao is his food [kakaw u hanal]” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). 

The pairing of cacao with powerful, spiritual figures, such as gods, lends credence to the concept that cacao beans were truly seen as valuable by the Mayans. Furthermore, cacao also appears in the Madrid Codex in a similar manner. In one instance, “an unidentified young god squats while grasping limbs from a cacao tree” (Coe, & Coe; pg 563). In another, there is a depiction of “four gods piercing their own ears,” and “scattering showers of precious blood over cacao pods” (Coe, & Coe; pg 564). Upon first glance these references to cacao could seem inconsequential; however, when considering the spiritual context in which they are presented, it becomes clear that cacao was indeed a keystone principle of Maya culture. 

The Mayan Glyph for Cacao (Kakaw)

The Río Azul Vessel:

As aforementioned, cacao was utilized in both the marriage rituals, and rites of death in Maya society. In marriage ceremonies, the chocolate serving rituals were used to cement the union; the use of cacao could symbolize marriage negotiations or the dowry (Martin, 2020). In contrast, cacao was also present in the rites of death, or burial ceremonies, for the Maya elite class. Oftentimes, “the honored dead were lavishly accompanied by special offerings to sustain them in the afterlife” (Coe, & Coe; pg 576). Specifically, “pottery dishes, bowls, and cylindrical vases” which carried food and drink would be placed next to the body, for “the ruler or noble (or his wife) to enjoy in the  abode of the dead” (Coe, & Coe; pg 576). These vessels would often contain cacao which at times would be dyed red to resemble blood (Martin, 2020). The cacao was meant to ease the soul of the dead, as they traveled to the underworld. It is assumed that this was done as the Mayans understood cacao as a provider of energy; therefore, it was seen as a useful aid to sustain the soul on its journey. 

Much of the evidence for the “Classic Maya use of cacao survives on the elegantly painted or carved vessels that accompanied the elite in their tombs and graves” (Coe, & Coe; pg 576). In 1984, at Río Azul (a Maya city), archaeologists made a key discovery in a Classic Maya tomb. Through collaboration between archaeologists, Mayanists, and Hershey chemists, it was proven that the tomb was “full of the paraphernalia of chocolate consumption” (Coe, & Coe; pg 620). The Río Azul vessels were transported to the Hershey laboratory; it was there that they discovered that the vessels contained both caffeine and theobromine in the residue. This was critical, as “the only plant or organic material in all of ancient America that can produce those two chemical signatures together are cacao” (Ewbank, 2019). Consequently, it was concluded that the Mayans most likely placed several different chocolate drinks in the tomb of the dead lord (Coe, & Coe; pg 620).

The Río Azul Vessel

Works Cited:

Hall, Grant D., et al. “Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala.” American Antiquity, vol. 55, no. 1, 1990. JSTOR, Accessed 23 Mar. 2020.

The Maya Dresden Codex [electronic image]. Retrieved from

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60

Ewbank, Anne. “Archaeologists, Mayanists, and Hershey’s Collaborated to Reveal This Ancient Vessel’s Secrets.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 21 Feb. 2019, Accessed 23 Mar. 2020.

Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 485-6)

The Mayan Glyph for Cacao [electronic image]. Retrieved from